Major study from influential American body finds abortion does not cause women to have mental health problems
Published 18 August 2008
The American Psychological Association has issued findings from a comprehensive two-year review of published research on abortion and mental health. The APA concluded that there is 'no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women'.
The APA evaluated studies in peer-reviewed journals since 1989. They found that some studies indicate that some women experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion, and some may experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." However, the task force found "no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors."
The report noted that other co-occurring risk factors, including poverty, prior exposure to violence, a history of emotional problems, a history of drug or alcohol use, and prior unwanted births predispose women to experience both unwanted pregnancies and mental health problems after a pregnancy, irrespective of how the pregnancy is resolved.
According to the report, women terminating a wanted pregnancy, who perceived pressure from others to terminate their pregnancy, or who perceived a need to keep their abortion secret from their family and friends because of stigma associated with abortion, were more likely to experience negative psychological reactions following abortion.
The task force's conclusions are consistent with the conclusions of a similar APA review published prior to 1989. Results of that review were published in Science in 1990 and in the American Psychologist in 1992. A full copy of the task force's report may be accessed at http://www.apa.org/releases/abortion-report.pdf. Read the APA press release here.
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the family planning charity BPAS, which provided 55,000 abortions in 2007, said of this important literature review
‘The long term psychological effects of abortion have been studied repeatedly since the legalisation of abortion in Britain and the United States. Abortion research is highly politicised but large, high-quality studies consistently show that having an abortion does not result in psychological damage.
‘Psychological research is often cited by groups who oppose the availability of legal abortion. Abortion disrupts their view of the ‘natural’ role of women as childbearers and mothers, so these groups strongly believe that abortion can only impact detrimentally on women’s psychological wellbeing. But far from being a traumatic aberration, abortion is among the commonest medical interventions that women have.
'One in three women in the UK has an abortion before the age of 45. There has not been a mass epidemic of abortion-induced mental illness resulting from this. No woman ever wants to need an abortion, but for many, it is the solution to the very serious problem of an unintended pregnancy which they feel completely unable to cope with.’
One in three women have an abortion before the age of 45 in the UK. See the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist’s evidence based guidance from 2004, 'The care of women requesting induced abortion', p1. http://www.rcog.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=662
A woman faced with an unintended pregnancy must decide to either to continue the pregnancy and bring up the child, or to have an abortion, or to put the baby up for adoption. These are serious and necessarily time-limited decisions. For some women, talking things through with a supportive, neutral person who is able to offer information on all three options can be helpful in allowing them to reach their own decision.
In recognition of this, the Department of Health registers and approves organisations offering counselling and referring women for abortion as Pregnancy Advice Bureaux, if they comply with their Required Standard Operating Principles.[i] These require the monitoring of the counseling information on all pregnancy options for ‘availability, clarity, content, balance and tone’ as part of a regulatory framework which also includes unannounced inspection by Department of Health officials.
[i] ‘Procedures For The Registration Of Pregnancy Advice Bureaux’, Department of Health, 2001. http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_4005566
For more information or to request an interview with Chief Executive Ann Furedi, please call the BPAS press office on 020 7612 0206 or 07788 725 185